photo credit: Eileen Murray

In late August I was in Saskatoon to participate in a short research/production residency for a Canada Council for the Arts sponsored Artist and Community Collaboration Program, connecting the College Art Galleries with the Meewasin Valley Authority, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Culture. The work produced during the residency is part of Formerly Exit Five: Portable Monuments to Recent History, curated by Shauna McCabe. The artworks in the exhibition “constitute a range of poetic ‘portable monuments’, highlighting the elusive transience of the contemporary and the implications for the way we invest built environments with memory.”

My week long residency began with a visit to the Meewasin Valley Authority, a conservation organisation and interpretive centre dedicated to conserving the natural and cultural heritage resources of the South Saskatchewan River Valley in Saskatoon. I was there to do some preliminary research on Factoria, a planned utopian industrial city in an area of Saskatoon now called Silverwood Heights. Robert E. Glass, a Chicago entrepreneur,  proposed to build Factoria on a 470 acre site which was promoted as having abundant natural resources, including spring water that was claimed to be “the purest in Canada”. Robert Glass sold hundreds of residential lots at Factoria to speculators for $500 each. An archaelogical review of the Factoria site for the Meewasin Authority details the extensive development that took place in a short period, including a spring water bottling plant, a brick and farm manufacturing company, a hotel, restaurant and row houses. In 1914 the dream of an industrial city died, in part due to the failure to extend of an overhead power line from Saskatoon to the new developments, but mostly because of the economic slowdown caused by the outbreak of the war and the ensuing credit freeze.

Using a photocopy of an aerial map and Factoria site sketch provided by the Meewasin Centre, I explored the area and found a few small building remnants and foundations hidden in the tall prairie grass covering the rolling hills. It was difficult to imagine the beginnings of an industrial metropolis in this peaceful valley bordering a sleepy subdivision. Ironically the only sign of industry was a large sewage treatment facility downhill glowing in the distant landscape.

My idea for a site-specific installation was inspired, in part, on the idea of ‘accidental monuments’ similar to the famous Hollywood sign, which was originally intended to last for 6 months as a temporary commercial sign to promote another planned neighbourhood, Hollywoodland. I was interested in creating a temporary monument to not only placemark and reveal Factoria’s hidden histories but also, through the material choices of solar powered LED’s and recycled materials, to suggest an environmentally sustainable present and future.

Photo Credit: Eileen Murray

The day I installed on-site happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer. I mounted the letter forms on the edge of an old fieldstone foundation from the Silverwood horse barn remains which was destroyed in the 1950’s.  Students from the ICCC Artistic Practice as Research/Landscape as Archive class visited the site and Jason Wall, senior interpreter from Meewasin Valley Authority, described Factoria’s history and took us on a tour to view the bottling plant ruins and natural springs. I documented the installation throughout the sweltering day and into the chilly evening, warding off bloodthirsty mosquitoes and meeting curious onlookers who came across the work unexpectedly and were intrigued by Silverwood Heights storied industrial past. The sculpture was removed from the site that evening and eventually disassembled/recycled.

FACTORIA from mikeo on Vimeo.

A video of Factoria will be exhibited at Formerly Exit Five: Portable Monuments to Recent History at the College Art Gallery, Artists: Vahram Aghasyan, Michael Alstad, Cyprien Gaillard, Sara Graham, Paul Griffin, Isabelle Hayeur, Craig Leonard, Andrew King + Angela Silver, David Rokeby, Denyse Thomasos
September 17 – December 17, 2010 – University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.

Special thanks to Jason Wall and the Meewasin Valley Authority, the staff of the Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room, Joseph Anderson and Kent Archer from the College Art Galleries, Shauna McCabe, Eileen Murray, Wing Yee Tong and Olga Dermendji. Support for this project was generously donated by Saskatoon Curbside Recycling and Cosmopolitan Industries.